Al Ayam Interviews the President of BHRM
Dialogue is the Solution to Human Rights Setbacks
On 4 March 2011, the President of the BHRM Hasan
Moosa Shafaei was interviewed by Al Ayam newspaper where he discussed
the recent political and human rights developments in the country.
Shafaei said that there was a setback in Bahrain in relation to
human rights, and that dialogue, political and human rights changes
are essentials. He also called for preserving what has been achieved
during the last ten years.
How do you view the unfortunate incidents from a
human rights perspective?
The incidents came as a shock to everyone, especially the large
number of people who are killed and injured. Everything happened
so quickly, there was no time for preparation and planning. The
division of Bahraini society into two streets was also surprising.
The Government’s poor performance was also shocking, as well as
the increase in public demands, which revealed that the street was
influenced by events in other Arab countries. There are many surprises,
but the main issue is whether these surprises can be absorbed. My
answer is that, not yet.
What happened? And why do you think the incidents
The main reason is that there are shortcomings in the reform
project itself, which has lost its momentum for some time. The Crown
Prince said that the reform project was slow and had failed to reach
all segments of society. The Executive Authority performance was
below par, and had failed to implement the big decisions that were
taken. Also, the performance of the Ministries was bad, especially
regarding public services. Moreover, the reform project failed to
keep up with the developments and the aspirations of the people.
At first a giant leap was made, but then things slowed down. Some
people were unenthusiastic about reform and that negatively affected
the performance of the State apparatus.
The recent events were encouraged by regional climate and the
political developments in both Egypt and Tunisia. It was possible
to deal with the situation differently, if not for the floundering
and the lack of preparation in Government performance. This caused
one problem after another and ruined Bahrain’s reputation, which
it worked hard to build during the last ten years.
It could be said that Bahrain was a victim of the static regional
situation that discourages political reforms and respect for human
rights. Bahrain was also under pressure from neighbouring countries,
who did not want to be embarrassed when compared with a reformed
Was the opposition shocked at what took place on
What took place was a big shock to both the opposition and the
Government. The latter wondered that: “Is this our people?” And
the opposition wondered that “Is this our Government?”. It was as
if each party was re-discovering the other, and distrust between
them went so far as to cloud their vision.
The opposition faces many challenges including losing public
support. The opposition’s ability to control the street has weakened.
In these circumstances the street becomes a monster, which scares
both the opposition and the Government. The Government’s mistakes
made the street uncontrollable and hence weakened the moderate advocates.
The moderates felt marginalized by the Government and that their
demands not met, such as combating corruption, fair distribution
of wealth, improving public services and solving both the housing
and unemployment problems.
What is the solution to this problem?
The dialogue between the Government and the opposition has not
materialized yet, and it should be so regardless of the escalation.
There is no alternative to dialogue, which will guarantee the birth
of a new Bahrain. What we are witnessing can be described as signs
of dialogue since each party tries to ensure that their demands
are met before proceeding to dialogue. Delaying dialogue will increase
the escalation in the street and will result in further sectarian
divisions whereby both opposition and Government will lose. I believe
that both parties are fully aware of this fact, and that concessions
need to be made for the greater public good. Maybe both parties
can agree on solutions that can be implemented according to a timeline.
I would like to stress that no one can impose their solution
on the other party. Each party may try to show its power but not
with the intention to confront but to draw a line between what is
possible and what is impossible. Consequently, political concessions
could be reached. Opposition leaders are beginning to feel that
the instability will not benefit anyone. We hope that the time for
compromise is near.
There is need for more mediators between the Government and the
opposition, who are aware of the current circumstances, understand
the fears and aspirations of all parties and have the competency
to bridge gaps in order to reach a common ground.
There are talks about a barrier of mistrust between
the various parties, what is your opinion on this?
An important part of the mistrust is because both parties don’t
understand the language, idea and culture of each other. The Shia
opposition in particular have this problem. They do not understand
the language of Government because they never experimented diplomacy
and its etiquette. They unintentionally hurt the Government and
do not understand the political system or the men behind it. Some
believe that the moderate Shia opposition are planning to attack
the regime, want to impose their sect, and that their sectarian
cause takes precedence over their national cause. Others oversimplify
the culture and aspiration of ordinary Shai citizen. We need to
re-discover each other and not live in isolation. This can only
be achieved through integration and a developed political performance.
We hope that our mutual interests will force every party to understand
the other, away from stereotyping.
Do you think human right in Bahrain is going through
a sharp decline?
Yes, the large number of casualties points to this fact. These
breaches are unacceptable. Unfortunately Bahrain’s human rights
reputation, which was built during the last decade, has sharply
deteriorated. I believe that this setback was not intentional but
came as direct result of the floundering performance of the security
forces; they were unprepared to deal with the demonstrations. Everyone,
including the King expressed their regret over the great number
of casualties. I hope that the investigation committee established
by the King should be transparent, honest and aware of the importance
of the issue in regaining the unity and the trust between the regime
and the society.
As a human rights activist, I try to separate between human rights
and politics despite the difficulty. There are various ways to solve
the political problems, but when it comes to human rights, it should
be viewed as a red line. I hope that what took place is the last
loss. Sooner or later, the human rights situation should be reassessed,
and human rights institutions should be encouraged to perform their
role. We should preserve and continue to promote human rights, such
as freedom of expression, freedom to establish civil and political
societies, council and parliamentary elections, social benefits,
financial and administrative auditing.
Despite the setback, I expect a political reshuffle to take place
so that political reforms and human rights develop more than ever.
This will make it hard for human rights violations to re- occur.